Not Bad Enough?

My story this November is about bad writers getting murdered. One of the things that makes this an excellent NaNoWriMo idea is that I can include excerpts of the fictitious bad writers’ fictitious bad novels. Which means not only can I just let fly with the prose, I don’t even have to cringe and tell myself that I will fix it later. I can revel in the mediocrity, even add things that normally I would never do.

Except for the complete absence of structure, however, even this draft of Step on a Hack is ahead of some of the crap out there.

Occasionally I will write a scene specifically intended to showcase common crime story clich├ęs and blunders. Paragraphs of exposition and loose-end-tying while the protagonist and antagonist are in a burning building, for instance. It is a fun world to write in, where all the good guys are named ‘Buck’ or ‘Dirk’ and all shoot with far better accuracy than a bad guy ever could, where they live a solitary existence, all girlfriends and partners murdered, and are tormented by demons from the past. And out there somewhere, a criminal mastermind seems to have it in for that one detective.

Yesterday I thought, “I need a scene with cars and guns,” so I wrote one. Such freedom! As I wrote it I had several opportunities to include details that are personal peeves of mine (car doors stopping high-velicity bullets, for instance), but I didn’t. Instead I let the scene play out the way I would do it. It’s still mildly preposterous, but I think it scores in the acceptable range on the preposterometer for a story of this genre.

Were I to go back and tweak it, I can see several ways I could make it better, especially at the start, where I still had word-inflation and bad prose as goals. Overall, however, this scene scores a “not bad” from the not-as-dispassionate-as-it-should-be part of me that judges everything I do. Which, ironically, makes it unsuitable for Step on a Hack. Not enough for the cop reading the story to mock. Oh, well.

Here, for your amusement, is a scene with cars and guns. And swearing. If the occasional f-bomb is going to sour your stomach and cast a pall over the rest of your day, then you probably should stop now.

Ace Martingale shifted into fourth as the sleek black Dodge Charger roared up the ramp and onto the highway, a steel shark in the night. Ace lit one cigarette with another and threw the smoldering butt of the first out the window. The speedometer crept upwards, 70 then 80 then 90. He let it settle in at 100 miles per hour. A good speed. Fuck kilometers.

The mighty engine purred and the hot desert air blew Martingale’s hair and dried his sweat instantly. He punched in an eight-track tape to help him think. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Free as a bird now. Free as a fuckin’ bird. Maritngale smiled for the first time in five years.

He was out, he was in a fast machine, a twelve-pack of corona blondies in the passenger seat, bolt cutters, pick and shovel in the back seat. In the trunk, the last of his problems. Life didn’t get any better than this.

“Fuck yeah!” he shouted into the night. “Fuck yeah!” he threw his empty out onto the road and reached for another. By the time the glass bottle hit the pavement he was long gone. He was a spirit, a shaman, a god of the desert and he was going to live forever.

At Desert Center he left the interstate highway, turning north on state road 177, past a couple of industrial sites and into the breathing desert. Two lane blacktop. The way it was supposed to be. He slowed it down to a safe and sane 90 per and popped open another brew.

For the next hour he floated along the highway, in harmony with machine and road, alone and unencumbered. Past mile marker 239 he slowed. There it was. Martingale’s heart sped up a bit as he pulled into the primitive rest stop. Nothing more than a table and what had once been a sun shade. A rusting barrel overflowed with garbage.

He turned off the music and rolled gently to a stop, his tires popping over the gravel. Behind the table his headlights splashed on a gate adorned with a rusted, bullet-riddled “No Trespassing” sign swinging on a piece of wire. He left the motor running and reached back for the bolt cutters.

He opened the car door and stood, stretched his spine. The desert’s hot breath kissed his face. “I missed you, baby,” he whispered into the darkness. The gravel crunched under his boots as he walked to the gate. Before he even reached the gate, he froze.

The chain was already cut.

He dropped the cutters and ran back to the car, dove back in the waiting door.

A hole appeared in the windshield, nice and clean, matched by a larger, more ragged hole appeared in the rear window. The round passed his head with a supersonic crack and vanished into the night.

Martingale stayed low, cranked the wheel and mashed the gas. The car slewed and jumped forward, slamming the door shut. The passenger door made a booming sound like someone had kicked it, and a slug tore into the upholstery.

“What the fuck!” He screamed. Killing another man was one thing, but this car was a classic. It was art. You don’t shoot art. He lifted his head a little to guide the car out onto the blacktop, pointed north. The spinning tires screeched when they hit the pavement and thrust the car forward. The engine roared as Martingale went through the gears. The car started to float at one hundred twenty miles per hour, and Martingale held on for sweet life.

Two lights stared back at him on the road ahead. The eyes of an animal, reflecting his headlights. He hit it before he even had time to wonder what it was. Night insects flashed in his high beams, there and gone faster than a prayer.

More lights ahead. This time, a car. He hurtled toward it. Motherfucker had his brights on. Martingale pushed his speed up to 140. Holding the wheel with sweaty hands, twitching to keep it in his lane.

Just before the other car flashed past he hit the brakes. Flame burst from the other car, the muzzle flash of an assault rifle on full-auto, spraying the space he would have occupied had he kept a steady speed. The enemy flashed past as Martingale punched the gas again and heard bullets tearing into the rear of the car. Then he was away, and, for the moment at least, he was alive.

In the rear view he watched as the other car hit the brakes and began to turn around. Martingale was going to be a long was down the road before they even got turned around. They’d have to be driving one hell of a car to catch him.

He took a deep breath. Time to stop reacting and start acting. They had men and guns, he had a fast car and the desert.

This was his desert. Whoever those people were back there, they had missed their chance.

They knew about the rest stop, and that meant Olaf had spilled his guts. Which meant he was probably dead. Anybody with the means to make Olaf talk wouldn’t be the type to keep him around after they got what they wanted from him.

Martingale slowed to take one white-knuckle turn, then another. He checked the rearview. Nothing. Just before the next corner he switched off his headlights and slowed. He pulled off the road, over a cattle guard concealed by a boulder. He stopped the car and ran back to the road, brushing over his tire tracks with his boot. It didn’t have to be perfect, as long as they weren’t obvious.

In the still night he heard the hiss of the car as it approached, augmented by the roar of a large engine. He ducked behind the rock as the pursuit car screeched around the corner, then around the next curve and out of sight. He jogged back to his car. He’d be easy to spot by anyone coming back the other way.

He stopped short when he saw the bullet holes in the trunk, the metal shining silvery in the moonlight against the black paint. He put his hand on the trunk lid, afraid to open it. “Fuck!” he said, but there was nothing to do now except get well down this road before the others doubled back. He thumped the trunk twice with his fist and jogged to the door. He drove slowly, lights off, steering by moonlight but wishing it was darker.

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